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Part One of this story is at this link

The cars Walt Disney built for his Santa Fe & Disneyland passenger train were authentic in nearly all respects. They, like the rest of the Disney trains, were built around a single dimension. A large blackboard had been set up in the Studio annex, where the Imagineers sketched a drawing of a full-size passenger car – ten feet wide, with a six foot, eight-inch tall doorway. Then, they reduced the size of the drawing to get a six-foot door.

Walt, standing five feet, ten inches tall, felt that if he could pass through a six-foot-tall door, then anyone could. So, the door dimensions of the cars were set at exactly six feet. The width of the cars came next, and then the length, resulting in cars that were nearly 38 feet long, and seven feet wide.


Imagineer Bob Gurr came up with the overall design of the cars, which were meant to appear as typical wooden cars of the mid-1880s (some sources suggest the cars were based on actual Santa Fe car designs of the period, but to date, no hard evidence has surfaced to back this up). Draftsman Eddie Sargeant, beginning August 14, 1954, prepared the working blueprints for the cars. The passenger cars soon took on the nickname "Retlaw 1," of course referring to Walt by spelling his name backwards.

The cars of Disneyland's first passenger train under construction in a studio sound stage.
The combine is at the far left. Photo courtesy Michael Broggie.

Construction of the cars soon began in one of the Walt Disney Studios' massive sound stages. The only concession to modern construction techniques was that the cars would have fabricated steel underframes, instead of wood. The rest of the cars were constructed exactly as they had been a hundred years earlier. Truss-like wood framing was used on the sides, paneled over with tongue-and-groove siding. The doors and doorways were arched at the top – a more expensive technique than simply using square doors and frames, but an example of the types of well-thought-out details that Disney was known for.

Many of the cars' components, such as the couplers (made by Alliance) and portions of the "trucks," or wheel sets, were purchased from a railroad parts supplier called C.M. Lovsted Company of Seattle, WA, ordered from a catalog that belonged to Bob Gurr. The cars were wired for speakers, and lighting was recessed in the ceiling, using faux brass fixtures. Inside, oddly pedestrian two-person seats were installed, and anyone who has ever ridden a school bus would instantly recognize the deep green leather-textured Naugahyde upholstery. The windows were operable with school bus window type latches.

A fairly recent innovation gaining wide use at the new theme park was used to glaze the upper windows on the "clerestory" roof – instead of using more-expensive and damage prone glass, these panes were glazed with frosted fiberglass.

Here, the open door of the combine reveals the wooden gate that could be
positioned for safety. Photo courtesy Michael Broggie

The coaches held 48 passengers, but the combine, because a portion of it was designed to carry "baggage," carried only 28 people. A wooden wall with a closed door divided the baggage area from the rest of the coach. Inside the baggage area, a few crates and steamer trunks were strewn about for effect.

Good photographs of the combine are hard to come by; it most often made cameo
appearances in pictures of the more photogenic steam engines.

The side baggage doors of the combine could be slid open, and when opened, a wooden fence or gate was put in place for safety. While I have not discovered anything in the record to support such a notion, it's possible that the railing was put in place because guests may have been allowed to ride in the car's baggage area.

The cars were painted in an overall bright yellow, with salmon colored roofs and steps. The window frames and doors were a bright red; a green letter board above the windows displayed Santa Fe & Disneyland R.R. lettering. Each of the passenger cars bore names associated with the Santa Fe Railroad; all except the combine. Instead, that car only wore her number: 101. The baggage end, however, was emblazoned with "U.S. Railway Post Office" in an old-west style font. Near the front of the car was painted "Wells Fargo & Co. Express Baggage." I am unaware that Wells Fargo sponsored anything about the train; the lettering was more likely simply a detail to imply realism.

This E.S. Hammack drawing may have inspired the combine's lettering; Hammack was a popular
illustrator in the 1950s, especially in books on railroading by Luscious Beebe and Charles Clegg.
The lettering here is nearly identical in wording and design with that on the Disneyland combine.

The Retlaw 1 train set was most often tied to the coupler of the E.P. Ripley steam locomotive. The Ripley was modeled after an 1880s passenger-pulling engine, and initially would only make her station stops at Main Street. Sometimes, however, the other engines would pull the cars as well.

Postcards usually showed the combine to its best advantage.
Here, the car trails behind the E.P. Ripley, as it so often did.

Through the years, other train sets were added to Disneyland. In 1958, the Excursion cars made their debut, and in the mid-1960s, the "Holiday" cars came on line, with their side facing seats. The Retlaw 1 cars were being used less and less. They were difficult to load and unload, as passengers had to pass through single file through the car doors. In addition, it was difficult to see Walt‘s new Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas. Soon, Walt's passenger train was phased out altogether, making its final run on a gloomy, drizzly day in 1974. Then, it was put into mothballs in the back of the Disneyland Roundhouse.

Another view of the combine, this time as she rode behind the Fred Gurley during that
locomotive's test runs. Note the fine scrollwork on the corner post; the design is still used
to this very day, on the corner posts of the Lilly Belle. Photo courtesy Michael Broggie.

As we know, the observation car of the train, Grand Canyon, was later turned into the Lilly Belle, but in the early 1990s, the rest of the train, including Walt's beloved combine, was traded to a local Los Angeles rail preservationist named Bill Norred. Norred had planned to use them in a small themed amusement park he had been planning on building. Disney received a steam locomotive in the trade.

Unfortunately, the locomotive proved to be too large for Disneyland. It was then given to Walt Disney World, where it proved to be too small. From there, the engine was traded to Cedar Point for a small locomotive that was eventually refurbished into the Ward Kimball at Disneyland today (ironically, Cedar Point sent the larger locomotive to Knott's Berry Farm, where it is currently undergoing restoration).

Sadly, in 1998, Bill Norred passed away, before being able to build his own dream park. Norred's family sold the train cars to a land developer in California – all of them, except the combine. They understood Walt Disney's attachment to the car, and wanted to keep it to remember Bill Norred as well. It was stored in a warehouse in Ventura, CA where it remains today, hidden from all public view.

Thankfully, for fans of Walt Disney's favorite railroad car, the story doesn't end here...

Continued in Part III...

Steve DeGaetano is author of Welcome Aboard the Disneyland Railroad! Steve's latest book, the history of Disneyland's newest locomotive, the Ward Kimball, is now available. You can read more about From Plantation to Theme Park, the Story of Disneyland Railroad Locomotive No. 5, the Ward Kimball, and place an order for it, by using this link.

Steve DeGaetano may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

© 2009 Steve DeGaetano

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